Muhammad Ali vs. Cleveland Williams

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Challenger rankings
Last Rankings
WBA 7 08.1966
Next-To-Last Rankings
WBA 7 06.1966
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Muhammad Ali 213 lbs beat Cleveland Williams 211 lbs by TKO at 1:08 in round 3 of 15


  • On November 29, 1964, Williams was shot in the stomach during an altercation with a Texas highway patrolman. The bullet moved across his intestines and lodged against his right hip. That night, he underwent nearly six hours of surgery that involved removal of a small section of intestine. "I died three times on that operating table," Williams said. He underwent four operations over the next seven months for colon damage and an injured right kidney, which was removed in June 1965. Doctors did not take out the bullet, which had broken his right hip joint and caused partial paralysis of some hip muscles. Williams lost almost 60 pounds off his 220-pound frame, but he regained strength by tossing 80-pound hay bales on his manager's cattle ranch. He returned to the ring in February 1966 and won four consecutive fights before facing Ali.
  • Ali formally signed the contract on September 15.
  • The fight was shown on closed circuit television at 125 locations in the United States
  • The fight was seen, either directly or on delayed tape, in 46 foreign countries.
  • Tickets were priced from $5 to $100.
  • There were 35,460 fans at the Astrodome, which was the largest crowd ever to see an indoor boxing match at that time.
  • The gross gate was $461,290.
  • Ali got 50% of the live gate and 50% of the ancillary rights, including closed circuit TV and radio. Williams got 20% of the live gate and 14% of the ancillary rights. The remainder was divided among the Astrodome and the promoter.
  • Ali was a 5 to 1 favorite.
  • The Ali Shuffle was introduced during this fight.
  • According to CompuBox, Ali landed 62 percent of his power punches (46 of 74), while Williams landed only 10 punches in the whole fight.
  • In the November 21, 1966, issue of Sports Illustrated, Martin Kane reported:
Williams began in the first round with a few futile efforts to reach Ali with hooks and jabs, but they landed against a fading target. The first solid punch of the fight was the champion's right hand to the head, and thereafter he began to display his expertise with full confidence that nothing that Williams could deliver would damage him. He scored almost at will, with jabs, hooks and a four-punch combination. He circled the ring at a pace that Williams simply could not match.
That was the first round, and Williams was lucky to survive it. But it was the second that told the story. The round brought disaster to the Big Cat. A fully confident Ali began to show off a bit, his handsome face alight with the realization that he was the thorough master of the situation. Although he encountered a succession of Williams' jabs, and even a right uppercut, Ali was landing his lefts and rights with power.
Then, so suddenly that the crowd was stunned into a momentary silence, Williams went down from a left-right combination. He rose quickly and took a mandatory count of eight but resumed his fighting stance with a stunned look on his well-pummeled features. A thundering, withering barrage put him down again. But he came up, this time with blood streaming from his nose and mouth. He wasn't up long. Clay closed savagely, punching hard with well-set combinations. For the third time Williams crashed to the canvas. Before he could be counted out the bell rang.
The standard rule that declares it a KO if a fighter is knocked down three times within a round was waived for this championship fight. That is the only reason the match was permitted to continue into the third round, for there was not much point to it anymore. But the bell rang again and Williams and Ali rose from their stools to face each other once more.
For fleeting moments Williams had the crowd roaring encouragement. He came out of his corner on the attack, his hair awry, his fists flailing, only to find that he had no hope of reaching Ali. The champion met his onslaught with a right to the head, followed by a left and still another right. Ali repeated this combination with almost insolent ease, and then floored Williams with a hard left hook. The Cat arose with blood streaming from his mouth. Manfully and uselessly, he plodded once more into a forest of fists, one of which twisted him around so that his back was toward Ali. The champion bashed him with a left, a right, a left and then a right to his head, and, as Williams floundered about the ring, Referee Kessler stepped in and stopped it.
  • Many consider this to be Ali's best performance. Broadcaster Howard Cosell told Ali biographer Thomas Hauser: "The greatest Ali ever was as a fighter was in Houston against Williams. That night, he was the most devastating fighter who ever lived."
  • During an appearance on The Arsenio Hall Show in 1989, Mike Tyson said this was his favorite Ali fight. "It's Ali at his best," he said.
  • The Ring: Boxing The 20th Century stated: "Ali's jab had never been as blinding; his feet had never seemed so light; his combinations had never flowed so effortlessly. At age 24, he was 27-0 (22), and peaking. It was time to freeze the moment for the time capsule."

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